Canadian artist and creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley hasn’t gone Hollywood. They made a movie out of his Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World series, but he’s still a laid back mellow artist. We joined a roundtable interview for the film where O’Malley explained his inspirations and process, like it was no big deal, just a phenomenon he happened to create.
Q: How did you keep the comic on the right side of clever?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: This is getting off on the wrong foot. I’m not a genius. I don’t know. I just try not to be too clever I guess. I don’t know how to answer that question. That was the danger of the movie too. I feel like in comics it’s easier to walk that line because everything’s kind of heightened and unrealistic to begin with. Sometimes when you get people saying the exact same lines in a comic, it just sounds insane. Like Frank Miller’s dialogue sometimes can do that in the transition.
Q: How did you work with Edgar Wright to match your style?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: I think that aspect was a little bit unexpected to me at first. I didn’t realize he was going to be quite so devoted to the look of the books because I never felt like I was a strong visual stylist, although apparently I’m mistaken. So I had watched Shaun of the Dead. That was the first thing of his that I saw and I really liked how naturalistic it was and I expected to see the same thing. Then all of a sudden we’re making this insane movie that looks like a comic book and I was like, “Oh my God, wow. This is amazing.” As it’s gone on, the original cut I saw was all green screens and wires and I was like, “What is all this sh*t?” Now it looks like a fully realized world which is more than I ever anticipated.
Q: When you wrote and drew it, were you thinking of a Michael Cera type?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: I don’t know. I don’t tend to cast roles in my head because I spend so much time with these characters and the drawings that they’re complete in themselves, you know what I mean? You probably don’t know what I mean because only I know what I mean. I don’t think of them as real people. Or they’re only real in my head until Edgar turned them into real people.
Q: How did you work with Edgar on the video game underpinnings of the style?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: One thing I loved about how Edgar pulled it off was the way he uses sound effects throughout the film. The first chunk of the film takes place more or less in the real world but we hear all the electronic sounds kind of intruding on conversations and stuff. At the end of the movie, he goes back to that. He’s having conversations and he’s getting points and you hear all these sound effects and bells and whistles going off and I think that was a really clever way of integrating that without it being too obvious. I also like how the numbers and stuff appear but you only see the edge of it, so you kind of get the sense of it but it’s not like intruding.
Q: Did your books play with time the way Edgar does with the editing?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: The transitions and stuff? I was not quite exactly like that but the first book in particular does have that snappy pace. Like one page will take place in one location and then we’re just instantly onto the next scene. That was a huge thing for Edgar I think. In these Manga style books, you flip through them, you read them pretty quickly. Edgar wanted to kind of replicate that I think.
Q: How does gaming as a media compare to film and comic books as storytelling media?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: The thing about the game is when they make a movie tie-in game, usually it’s something that feels shoddy and they just do it really quick. It feels like a cash-in. It’s got cheap 3-D graphics replicating. So the first thing we said when we sat down is we didn’t want to see the cheep polygon version of Michael Cera fighting bad guys. No knock on Michael Cera, we love the guy, but I don’t want to play him in a videogame right now. So I was really adamant on doing a kind of cartoon style. Then Ubisoft hired Paul Robertson who’s one of the coolest most respected pixel artists in the world. Then I knew we were on the right track.
Q: What things got cut out of the movie but made it into the game?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: To be honest, I don’t even know some of the things because Paul Robrtson works 24-7. He keeps adding new stuff. When I played the most recent version at Comic Con, there’s all this stuff I didn’t anticipate. Lisa Miller from the books is standing in the background. You can punch her and she’ll be ducking and she’s really cute. Our goal with the game, the idea was to make it like a bunch of Japanese developers were sent the books and couldn’t understand what was going on. That’s how old Nintendo games always felt: bad dialogue and weird enemies. It’s just kind of an insane alternate version.
Q: How did you come up with the names of the characters in the first place?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: When I was first planning it out, I had this rule that everyone in the story had to have a cool name or else they couldn’t be in the story. I don’t know. I don’t know what I was on but I just had fun coming up with strange names, Knives Chau and naming someone after Stephen Stills for no apparent reason.
Q: Did Edgar ask you to do any storyboarding?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: The thing is, they used a lot of panels from the book as storyboards, or they would kind of chop stuff up if they needed to rearrange a little bit. Then Edgar’s brother Oscar is a really talented artist and he did additional storyboards, like 1000s of storyboards in the style of the books. So they had this kind of comic booky look for the entire thing so I think I did two or three storyboards out of 10,000.
Q: What were some movie-only moments that you really enjoy, that wouldn’t be possible in comics?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Like I was talking about the sound effects, that stuff blows me away. The Seinfeld bit, I don’t know where in the hell that came from. Did that come up in rehearsal? The funny thing is when I watch the movie, I’ve been so close to the material for so long, the scenes I enjoy the most are the ones that are changed from the book. The Roxy scene to me is my favorite scene in the movie. It escalates in this really satisfying way. It uses elements from the books but it recombines them. So I don’t know if fans will be like, “This is so different and sh*tty.” I just love that.
Q: Was there any adaptation you insisted remain the same?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Really just the tone. The relationship and as it went on, I became really devoted to the idea of the strong female characters, just giving everyone equal chance to kick ass and not be talked down to.
Q: Shouldn’t Ramona have gotten to beat Gideon Graves up a little bit more?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Well, the last book was done concurrently with the movie so a lot of it by default couldn’t make it into the movie. Yeah, in the book I ended up going with Ramona being a lot more active in the last fight. I think it works really well in the film too.
Q: How did you make the use of video games in the comic and movie so authentic?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: For me at first it just kind of came naturally. It was the mythology of my own life and I tried to literalize this sense of having spent time playing Mega Man, it’s kind of like you were Mega Man for those hours of your life. It’s like, “Oh, I was Mega Man.” In my teens and university and stuff, video games became more realistic or they started to. Something like Resident Evil 2, when they started becoming 3-D and they had fog and stuff, then I would start confusing that with reality once in a while, when I was tired. I extrapolated that back to the old Nintendo games. What if you played River City Ransom and you just remembered that as your high school experience. That was my inspiration for the book.
Q: So it’s for gamers of all ages.
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Yeah, I think there’s an entry point for anyone who’s played a video game starting with Pong.
Q: Is it still a creative risk with the stigma of video games, especially within movies?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Yeah, we’re waiting for Roger Ebert to weigh in.
Q: But even though it’s in the books, Scott doesn’t play games in the movie.
Bryan Lee O’Malley: There wasn’t time. We needed fights and kissing.
Q: What games were you connected to?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: That’s a big question. Battletoads. Monkey Island 2 was a huge game for me. It kind of taught me all about comedy. Like I said, Mega Man. Mega Man 2 is one of my all time touchstones, and River City Ransom.
Q: How does it feel to be finished with the whole Scott Pilgrim story?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: It feels good. I feel like I’m ready to do something else, to say something else. I don’t know if anything will work out but I’m going to be trying new stuff.
Q: When will you start on that?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: After a while. I’m going to take it easy for a bit.
Q: Are you still doing a Special Features Scott Pilgrim book?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Yeah, I definitely have always wanted to do something like that because I’m a nerd and I’m also a nerd for myself. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted more background information on especially cartoonists. There’s not a lot of books like that so I definitely want to do a book that has script excerpts and things that changed in the background. Just a whole special features bonus book. That’s something I’d like to do maybe next year.
Q: Are there any cool or surreal moments from your Hollywood experience?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: I don’t know, I’m still kind of processing it. The whole last week, I basically just came out of my cave last Monday and it’s been like eight days of nonstop insanity and meeting people. I don’t know yet. I did meet Joss Whedon the other night. He was in the middle of dancing and I was drunk. Someone was just like, “Joss, this is Bryan Lee O’Malley.” Anyway, he was really cool. Maybe I’ll meet him again one day.
Q: Did you have a tough time writing the later Scott Pilgrim books as you approached your 30s?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: It was less difficult than I thought it would be. I think when you’re younger than 30 you think 30 is going to be this huge thing but it’s not really. Actually I had more perspective on being 23/24 when I’m 30 so I think it helped me to write it, to bring it all home.
Q: How cool is it to see Toronto in a movie?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: It’s awesome. I love seeing Toronto for Toronto which hasn’t happened a lot. I think the Mike Meyers movie, Atom Egoyan’s Chloe which is probably a little bit of a downer, so it’s great. We’re going to do a premiere there and that’ll be really fun. I’ll invite all my old friends.